Katie Holmes. The name comes up every time Dead Accounts, her new Broadway play, is mentioned.
Invariably, she’s billed as the draw, and is certainly the reason for all the buzz surrounding what in the end is an average, and often confused, account of the return of a prodigal son from the shallow urban jungle of New York to his roots in the American midwest.
But the name that counts is Norbert Leo Butz, who portrays said son with such energy, such brilliance, that he almost makes up for the writing. At the end of the two hours, when it’s still unclear what Theresa Rebeck’s play is about, the skill of this two time Tony Award winner is spectacularly apparent.
Butz is Jack, who makes an unannounced return to his family home in Cincinnati, Ohio, after embezzling $27m from dormant (or dead) accounts at the New York bank where his father-in-law helped him land a job. Back home, he spends the loot on fastfood, while his mousy sister, Lorna, played by Ms Holmes, and his pious mother Barbara, portrayed by Jayne Houdyshell, help his father endure a painful bout of kidney stones. The father eventually ends up in hospital, just as Jack’s soon to be ex-wife, Jenny, played by Judy Greer, arrives from the big apple, seeking a share of the stolen funds. Amidst all this drama, there is also a (redundant) subplot about a brewing romance between Lorna and Phil, Jack’s friend from his youth, played by Josh Hamilton.
As the story unfolds, the play, like the sick father, goes through its own ailment: schizophrenia. What begins as a comedy, with Butz’s character engaging in a series of amusing asides about the gulf between the vapid big life of New Yorkers and the grounded family-focused values of midwesterners, turns into something that feels more serious as hot-button issues such as Wall Street greed and the place of religion in American life are aired on stage. Sadly, nothing - not the comedy, nor, despite the obvious pegs in the storyline, the riff on high-finance - is fleshed out.
Mr Butz’s spirited performance helps keep the audience engaged. But it can’t mask these flaws.
And what of Ms Holmes? The actress delivers an assured performance. There’s no glamour to Lorna’s character, and Ms Holmes successfully leaves the A-list Hollywood persona so beloved of the tabloids in the green room.
But still, the real star of the show - the only star - is Mr Butz.